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KENYA: Agricultural Budget Out of Reach of Small-Scale Farmers

NAIROBI, Sep 23 2010 (IPS) - Although the majority of Kenyans are agricultural producers, only 3.6 percent of the country’s national budget goes towards the sector. This falls severely short of government’s promise to spend at least ten percent on agriculture.

About five million out of Kenya’s eight million households are directly involved in agricultural production, according to Vision 2030, a government strategy document geared towards the country’s growth and development. And yet, ten million out of 38 million Kenyans face starvation and will require food aid this year, a recent census showed.

Agricultural experts say the shortage of agricultural budget has a particularly severe impact on small-scale farmers, who struggle to even feed their own families.

The agricultural sector needs massive funding to help farmers move beyond production for household consumption to upgrading for large-scale marketing,” says Francis Karin, researcher at the Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development in Nairobi.

“Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture is spread thin,” he explains. “It lacks staff, for example, to offer technical support to farmers. There are not enough funds for much-needed research, and the country is in need of farming technology to increase production.”

Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme

Kenya is one of four countries expected to beat an October deadline to apply for funds under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme.

CAADP's Pillar 1 aims to extend the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems.

Pillar 2 seeks to increase market access through improved rural infrastructure and other trade-related interventions.

Pillar 3 aims to increase food supply and reduce hunger across the region by raising smallholder productivity and improving responses to food emergencies.

Pillar 4 aims to improve agricultural research and systems in order to disseminate appropriate new technologies.

(Source: CAADP)

Budget shortfall

Without financial assistance from government, smallholders will continue to fight for survival, unable to move towards sustainability. One of them is Waceke Kamau from Kiambu County in Central Kenya. She says she is at the verge of selling her cattle and replacing the cash crops on her two acres of land with food crops to be able to feed her family of six.

Cash cropping doesn’t make enough money, Kamau complains: “The government is paying farmers very little for their cash crops, like tea and coffee, while so much money goes into buying inputs such as fertilisers, seeds and even to pay for labour. The sale of milk brings very little, either, which is then ploughed back [into feeding the cows] to ensure they produce milk.”

Professor Mary Abukutsa, who has worked as an agricultural officer in the Ministry of Agriculture and is now a researcher and lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology in Nairobi, confirms that agriculture is not a top priority for government, even though it is the bedrock of the country’s economy.

“When the government allocates so little to this sector, it means that the farmer has no subsidies to help boost agricultural production, which means he spends a lot of money on input, which in turn makes his product very expensive,” she notes.

Abukutsa says another reason why smallholders struggle is that most of them don’t have direct access to markets and thus have to sell their produce cheaply to vendors, who then re-sell it with high mark-ups.

Focus on monocultures

The only farmers who benefit from the current agricultural policies – and who can access subsidies – are large-scale farmers who plant monocultures, largely for export purposes, such as tea and coffee, and are able to negotiate high profits on the international market – profits that government knows will ultimately benefit Kenya’s economy.

Hence government recently expressed optimism that it will surpass its goal of achieving 4.4 percent economic growth this year by 0.3 percentage points, mainly due to tea production.

Small-scale farmers, however, who are the majority of agricultural producers in the country, are unable to access subsidy schemes.

“We hear in the media that government will help us get more from the sale of milk, tea and coffee but that is just rhetoric. Until we can sell our products without the middleman, there’s very little that can be done to improve our plight,” Kamau laments.

Food shortage

Abukutsa therefore believes that the high numbers of Kenyans going hungry is caused by insufficient planning by the Ministry of Agriculture rather than by scarcity of food.

“Some regions are producing more food, which could be distributed to regions that produce less, but there is lack of capacity due to the low agricultural budget,” she explains. And perhaps also lack of political will.

As part of a university project, Abukutsa started setting up cooperatives with 100 smallholders, helping them to pool their resources to access markets and thereby get the maximum profit for their produce.

“On his own, a fisherman will toil all day only to sell a fish for less than a dollar. The same fish is ultimately bought for five or six dollars [if he can’t cut out the middleman],” she explains.

Abukutsa calls on government to emulate her model – to assist farmers in setting up cooperatives, improving infrastructure to cut cost and fund research to develop innovative methods and technologies to help farmers further increase their profit margins.

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